Diagnosing Feline Upper Respiratory Disease Complex

Feline upper respiratory disease is the terminology used to describe one of a variety of conditions which affects your cat's breathing passages. Diseases affecting the nasal passageways, throat, mouth and other closely related parts of your cat's body all fall within this classification. As a result of the broad use of this term, diagnosing the particular cause of your pet's condition can be a difficult process. The keys to proper diagnosis involve accurate assessment of symptoms, medical history checks and virus isolation and identification.

Symptoms of Feline Upper Respiratory Disease Complex

Calicivirus and Rhinotracheitis virus are the two leading diseases that affect your cat's breathing. These two diseases have related but unique symptoms. Oftentimes, close analysis of your pet's symptoms is enough to determine whether one of these two conditions has contributed to his illness.

Calicivirus is commonly associated with the following symptoms:

  • Discharge from the eye and nose
  • Ulcers in the mouth
  • Limping or other signs of joint pain
  • Pneumonia

Rhinotracheitis virus typically presents one or more of these warning signs:

  • Sneezing
  • Discharge of the eye only
  • Drooling
  • Severe loss of appetite and weight
  • Fever
  • Abortion (in pregnant cats)

If your cat displays any of these symptoms, make a note of when they began and their severity and take your pet to the veterinarian as quickly as possible for further diagnosis.

Veterinary Diagnosis

At the vet's office, your veterinarian will begin his diagnostic procedure by thoroughly reviewing all of the symptoms that your cat has presented. If he feels that he requires additional evidence to confirm the cause of your cat's health problems, he will continue with additional testing.

Polymerase chain reaction testing is one of the primary methods used to determine the cause of your pet's condition. This process involves the duplication of DNA from the virus, allowing your veterinarian to more closely examine the virus itself. A polymerase chain reaction test can typically be accomplished relatively quickly and with a small sample of skin or discharge.

If your pet suffers from conjunctivitis of the eye as a result of his upper respiratory disease, your veterinarian may take a small sample of the discharge from the conjunctiva in order to complete further testing for the source of the disease.

Isolating the virus with laboratory tests is another common method used to complete the diagnosis.

Having diagnosed your pet's condition, you and your veterinarian can proceed to determine the proper course of treatment. In the case of calicivirus, the disease itself typically runs its course in 2 weeks or less. However, Rhinotracheitis virus may remain in your pet's system for up to a month. Although it isn't possible to flush the virus from your pet's body directly, you and your veterinarian can discuss methods suitable for your cat that can help to manage the effects of the virus. These typically involve dietary modification, medicine to address the various symptoms of the disease, and plenty of rest.

Feline upper respiratory diseases are relatively common among household cats. While they are generally mild in nature, it is important to properly diagnose them so that you can provide your pet with the best treatment available.